By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
With the Fourth of July barbecues long gone and the first day of school looming on the horizon, August means the last chance for a family vacation and the culmination of North American criterium racing. From big money criteriums to the USPRO championships, fans all across the U.S. can get their fill of racing before the end of the season.
When listing favourites for these races, the numerous sprinters of Health Net-Maxxis have to be at the top of the list. Gord Fraser, Greg Henderson, Ivan Dominguez and Tyler Farrar have all ridden well this year. Navigator's Insurance has more than a couple of sprinters in their stable as well with Vasilli Davidenko finishing his career and looking to go out on top. Jelly Belly-Pool Gel would have the USPRO criterium jersey on the team were it not for the retirement of Jonas Carney. However, riders like Alex Candelario, Dave McCook and Danny Pate can all challenge in these races. Colavita-Sutter Home's Mark McCormack leads another strong team with sprinter Juan Jose Haedo.
Other professional and amateur teams will also be using these races as a springboard for next year's sponsorships, while individual riders hope to score a contract for next year. On the women's side, Tina Pic (Quark) is arguably the queen of criteriums, reigning as U.S. champion for the past three years. But outside of the national championships, Pic will have to battle the likes of Ina Teutenberg (T-Mobile) and other strong riders.
Cyclingnews offers a closer look what is ahead for North American racing in this month named after Caesar Augustus.
August 1 - NYC Championships
Unfortunately for the Big Apple, this year's race was without a sponsor and is indefinitely postponed.
August 6 - Bank of America Invitational
One date on just about every U.S. sprinter's calendar is August 6. After last year's initial success, the folks in Charlotte, NC have added a women's race to what is being billed as the "World's Richest Criterium," and with a cash prize list of more than $175,000, who is to argue? Six rider teams will compete for a chance to win on a tight and fast, 1.2 mile course in the uptown district.
Defending champion Ivan Dominguez, now riding for Health Net-Maxxis, is once again a favourite. Davitamon-Lotto, the team of Fred Rodriguez and last year's third place winner Henk Vogels, has accepted an invitation.
Women's Event: 5:30 p.m.
Men's Event: 7:00 p.m.
August 14 - Chevron Manhattan Beach Grand Prix
On the other side of the country from Charlotte, the 44th Annual edition of this criterium standard will once again feature the same challenging course. Shaped like a slightly bent "paperclip", the course features two long straightaways, two sweeping 180 degree turns, and 150 feet of climbing per lap. The final turn is just 200 meters from the finish line, so spectators can find many good places to watch.
Tyler Farrar (Health Net-Maxxis) and Tina Pic (Quark) are the defending champions and are good bets for possible repeat wins.
Pro Women: 11:25 a.m.
Pro Men: 12:30 p.m.
August 20-21 - USPRO & Elite National Criterium Championships
For the criterium racing junkie in your group ride, this weekend should be circled and not missed. The Chicago suburb of Downers Grove, IL continues as host of the USPRO and elite criterium championships for men and women, with a tough course and lots of racing packed into two days. Saturday features category racing on the same course as the pro's, culminating with a half-distance pro-am for both men and women.
Sunday begins early with a rarely seen men's category 2-only race before the elite amateur men and women fight for the stars and stripes. Like Philadelphia, the USPRO champion will be the first American to cross the line. Last year's finish was one for the story books as two veteran pros, Jonas Carney and Robbie Ventura, raced in their final event as professionals, with Ventura crashing in the final corner and Carney winning the jersey.
This year's race will be equally interesting with the dominant Health Net-Maxxis team consisting of only one American sprinter in Tyler Farrar. Tina Pic (Quark) has owned the women's race since 2001 and looks as strong as ever.
Elite Women: 10:00 a.m.
Elite Men: 11:30 a.m.
USPRO Men: 2:30 p.m.
August 27-28 - Chris Thater Memorial
The people of Binghamton, NY have been running this event for the past 22 years in order to raise awareness of drunk driving. Not only does it feature an NRC criterium with $40,000 in prizes, but a 5km running race worth $15,000 as well. The cycling course is a 1.2 mile roll through a city park that includes a small climb and plenty of non-cycling entertainment for the less-than obsessed cycling fan in your family.
A variety of people have won this race, including Cyclingnews diarist John Lieswyn (Health Net-Maxxis) and Cyclingnews' own Kristy Scrymgeour, riding for Saturn.
Pro Men: Noon
Pro Women: 2:00 p.m.